When my grandmother died, I got mad at my mom. While I have great sympathy for those going through vulnerable periods in their lives, I don’t have much patience for bullshit. And here my mother was, crying hysterically after the service despite having shared detailed tales of animosity toward her parents with anyone who’d listen for most of my life. I couldn’t believe it. (Grandma) Philomena’s Irish charm, no-holds barred approach to criticizing her neighbours, and never-feigning altruistic nature made her by far my favourite member of the family growing up. So, if anyone had a right to be upset, it was me. Although I didn’t know it then, the majority of my anger was actually fuelled by my own inability to cry.
Phil’s death did hurt; or at least I knew it should have. Except all I could feel inside was emptiness and guilt. It consumed me. This was not denial that she was gone. As soon as I arrived at the door to her house in Oshawa, I sensed that. I didn’t feel as if I hadn’t listened to her enough while she was alive. I listened, I just didn’t necessarily learn from her stories right away. My initial guilt stemmed from not having paid her a visit in a month and a half, when I had spent the last decade seeing her every other week or so (though it didn’t take long to conclude that she wouldn’t honestly hold that against me). Then sometime between the service and burial, the realization that I was focusing on my own curious lack of anything rather than my grandma’s memory made the real guilt kick in.
(Photo by Devon Stewart)
I got the news sitting at the edge of my girlfriend’s bed, about to break up with her. We’d had fun for about three months and here we were, four more later, and everything was stagnant. The sex had not only plateaued – it was worse, our dialogue consisted of her talking to me about things I wouldn’t trade a cigarette for, and most importantly, she confessed to me that she often cried when she was alone but didn’t know why. For months, I tried to figure out who this strong, opinionated girl – let’s call her Ally – was. So outwardly cool, so damaged, yet so seemingly in control. I couldn’t come to any sensible conclusions about where her torment was coming from, unless she was suffering from what I would call simple daddy issues. (i.e. “Dad doesn’t show up when he’s supposed to. He’s got a new life but doesn’t realize that just because I’m an adult doesn’t mean I’m not still his little girl”). Needless to say, that ineffaceable call from my uncle put a hold on my break up plan. I put down the phone and told her the news. The body next to me, that was silver-bullet-cold not a minute prior, turned warm and comforting. We had (great) sex, I got dressed and rushed for the train to Oshawa.
As a point of clarity, I should mention that Ally and I were both in our burgeoning twenties and my urge to end things with her was based on our shared disappointment with each other, not just my own. Though, standing in the cemetery watching my grandma’s casket lower into the ground, Ally’s grasp was probably the only thing keeping me up right. When I said I felt empty, I meant it wholly. There was nothing inside holding me standing. The longer I went without even verging on a tear, the more defined my emptiness became. Like a black hole sucking me in, about to disseminate the molecules that once formed my body across the universe, I had no idea where I was going. I only knew that in this instance, it was the wrong way. So, who was I to judge others for crying inexplicably when I couldn’t even bare to accept my own feelings?
The answer is that I was just another lost soul seeking a miracle. Except that ‘miracle’ was the desire to evade my true emotions. I wanted nothingness so badly that I imploded. Not to say that I should have stayed with my girlfriend of the time. Although, I should have realized that “simple” daddy issues can be huge, and while I have my own that don’t make me cry, something that’s completely ridiculous to someone else just might. Something like Lepreclowns (half leprechaun / half clown). My mother may have loathed her own for a plethora of reasons, but she was still raised by her. To reference a popular cliché, no one chooses their parents… that’s why we’re allowed to hate them. It’s also why we’re allowed to cry when they die, even if the notion might have made us smile at some point in the past.
To this day, I haven’t cried about my grandmother, but if the moment comes I now know better than to call it empty.
Men, in particular, face negative stigma when it comes to expressing emotion as physically as with tears. What we, as anyone, need to keep in mind is that agony is intrinsic to life; and if we don’t accept that we’re vulnerable sometimes, how can we ever claim to be strong?